Book Review: Public Parks, Private Partners

One of the most important books recently published about nonprofit management of a public park, the core of our strategy for the Parkway (see our strategy at our website: http://www.arpps.org ) , is Public Parks, Private Partners: How Partnerships Are Revitalizing Urban Parks by Project for Public Spaces, Inc. (PPS) whose website is http://www.pps.org/ .

This is an important book.

It highlights 16 Partnership organizations, from our favorite model the Central Park Conservancy to the Yakima Greenway Foundation, that clearly show the great benefit of having a nonprofit conservancy manage public parks.

The book lists the reasons for having nonprofits manage public parks.

Among them are:

Efficiency and Flexibility: “A private group can act fast and save money. It also has the ability to be more flexible with staff and budget lines…and private groups are more open to experimenting with new or innovative park programs in an effort to be more responsive to park users.” (p. 9)

Advocacy: “A nonprofit may have the freedom and political will to speak out for budget increases, for increased security, or in favor of acquiring new parkland, while a parks department is constrained by and allied to the city’s priorities.” (p. 9)

Fundraising and Accepting Donations: “Private donors often don’t like to give to the public sector because they can’t control how their money will be spent.” (p. 9)

And the additional benefit of the donor receiving a tax write-off for donations to a 501 c (3) nonprofit organizations can be substantial.

Focus: “A nonprofit group that focuses specifically on one park may view that park, greenway, or other open space amenity more holistically than a parks department that has a responsibility to provide basic service to all the parks in a city or metropolitan area….Additionally, public agencies often can’t or don’t want to manage small discrete projects, …whereas private groups can devote the necessary attention to detail.” (p. 10)

Community Ties: “ A private group often has better credibility with residents and local institutions than the local government does, allowing the nonprofit to facilitate meetings better, and tap key leaders for support and active engagement in the park.” (p. 10)

Consistent Leadership: “ A mature nonprofit conservancy…sometimes can provide more continuous leadership in a park of open space amenity that public officials can, as they are subject to politics and elections.” (p. 10)

If all of this rings crystal-clear and true in relation to our situation with our Parkway needs; to resolve the ineffective management, inattention to public safety, failure to plan strategically, and the lack of a consistent and dedicated funding stream, culminating in the tragic and continuing deterioration of our Parkway, it is because it is.

I urge those of you who care about our Parkway and want to learn how it can be preserved, protected, and strengthened for future generations, to order this book and join with us in seeing a viable and practical strategy, built around management by a nonprofit American River Parkway Conservancy, be implemented.

As this book makes clear, the partnership organization concept is the managment concept that works, and the communities still waiting for their local parks agencies to take better care of their parks, probably have a long wait.

The book can be ordered from PPS at: http://www.pps.org/info/products/Books_Videos/public_parks

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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